He didn't have to drink alone on Tuesday night, because George Thorogood had a packed Zeiterion Performing Arts Center partying right alone with him.

Thorogood and the Destroyers took the stage at about 9:15, as a sole blue spotlight shined on the drum kit and the sound system played Barry McGuire's classic protest song "Eve of Destruction," which somehow still seems just as relevant today as it did in 1965. Once the record wrapped up, the band launched into "Rock Party," a song that's only about 11 years old but feels like it's straight out of a 1960's suburban garage. It's become a set-opener for Thorogood, and it was the theme of the entire night.

From there, it was a slowed-down, groovier version of "Who Do You Love?" that took still had all the good-time music with less of the Bo Diddley beat. It would be easy to expect that, at age 67, George would have slowed down a bit with time, but he was just as much up and down the stage as he was the neck of his Gibson guitar, the consummate front man for a band that blends rock and blues without showing a single seam in the process.

And as terrific as the five band members were, the unofficial sixth Destroyer should be the person operating the band's incredible light system, which added an element that turned the Zeiterion into a true rock arena with flashing strobes, laser-like spotlights and pulsating patterns that were just as much a part of the performance as the music itself.

One early highlight was a cover of The Strangeloves' "Night Time." Both the Destroyers and The J. Geils Band put out versions of the tune on their 1980 albums, but the former played it Tuesday night as a full-out tribute to the late John Geils, who died this past April. Throughout the night, Thorogood mentioned his affinity for Boston; the Destroyers got their start coming up from Delaware and playing New England, before landing a record deal after being spotted in a Boston bar back in 1976. Forty years, 15 million albums and over 8,000 live shows later, Thorogood apologized for taking so long to get to New Bedford but promised it wouldn't take his band so long to return.

More hits followed like "I Drink Alone," "Gear Jammer" and "Movin' On Over." Sandwiched between the first two was "House Rent Blues/One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer," in which Thorogood once again name-dropped The J. Geils Band (stating that before his landlady could throw him out because he "ain't got no job, therefore he ain't got no money to the pay rent," he went back to get his J. Geils records) and made multiple references to New Bedford, which he called "the best-kept secret in rock and roll."

Especially fun for me was getting to share the show with my Dad, who taught me to love rock and roll from an early age. He was especially excited by "Haircut," which was probably the Destroyers' last big hit, way back in 1993. In fact, a few years before I myself got a haircut, and got a real job.

After "Movin' On Over," George took a mini-break while the band kicked off "Twenty Dollar Gig," and it's easy to imagine the Destroyers still would have no problem playing for $20 a night if that's all they could make (and speaking of money, the band's "Rock Party Tour" donates $1 from every ticket sold to The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, so fans are helping fight cancer while rocking out). Thorogood came back on the stage and took the mic in hand, once again breaking out his moves like Jagger throughout the song. Once it was over, he strapped back on his white Gibson hollow body and launched into the familiar slide of his most recognizable hit, "Bad to the Bone." To this day, I can't help but think of Al Bundy when I hear it, and have to utter "Let's Rock" after the initial opening lick. The light show really impressed during this tune, with "B-T-T-B" and "B-O-N-E" showing up across the LEDs over the band members' heads.

After a very brief full-band break, the Destroyers returned for a quick encore as George asked, "What do you say we bust up this joint?" which could only mean it was time for their cover of the Elmore James classic, "Madison Blues." While he thankfully didn't give the Z a literal bust-up, it was a great way to finish off a rockin' night. Although that wasn't exactly the end; as the house lights came up, the national anthem filled the room, and Thorogood stood at the edge of the stage and wished everyone a good night. In addition to being a total bad-ass, George also seems to be a pretty nice guy.

Opening act Dustin Arbuckle and The Damnations claimed it was only their third show together, but the Kansas-based group sounded like a tight-knit unit already. Arbuckle gained fame as part of Moreland & Arbuckle, but his new band blends together a variety of influences from blues, rock, country, and jazz into a sound that is clearly roots-driven while sounding completely fresh (and how many other bands have a guy playing the upright bass that actually have a doctorate in the instrument?). They were the perfect compliment to the Destroyers, and could certainly step in and fill the party void if George Thorogood ever does hang up his Gibson.

Next up on the rock slate at the Z, Traffic founder Dave Mason comes to New Bedford on July 11.


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